Thomas Kilmann Conflict Model – Discover 5 Conflict Resolution Styles

Before we start with Thomas Kilmann conflict model, Let’s peak through the study conducted by The Gottman Institute in their book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work that uncovered many thought-provoking facts, some of which are listed below: 

  • 60% of the couples say that conflict is the primary source of stress in their relationship.
  • The average couple has six arguments per week, but only one of those arguments is resolved.
  • 90% of divorced couples said that the communication gap was a major factor in the breakup.
  • Couples who use constructive conflict resolution strategies are 50% more likely to be happy in their marriages than couples who use destructive conflict resolution strategies.
  • Couples who were able to resolve conflict healthily were more likely to be happy and satisfied with their relationships and be able to make decisions together.

The above facts indicate that conflicts are quite common in relationships, but if they are not addressed appropriately, they can become quite stressful and problematic, which can lead to sourness in relationships. Today, I want to talk about conflict management, and to understand it better we will delve briefly to understand Thomas Kilmann’s two-dimensional model of conflict resolution.

Thomas Kilmann Conflict Model - Two-Dimensional Conflict Resolution Model

Thomas Kilmann Conflict Model – Two-Dimensional Conflict Resolution Styles

Thomas Kilmann was an American professor with a Ph.D. in psychology. He had over 30 years of experience in the field, and in 1974, he, along with his colleague Kenneth Thomas, developed the Two-Dimensional Model of Conflict Resolution theory. This entire theory revolves around two behavioral traits classified as Assertiveness and Cooperativeness, Let us understand these two in detail:

What is Assertiveness and Cooperativeness?


It means how strongly you put your opinion and views in front of others, it can also be referred to as Concern for Self. Having a different opinion or an idea can be a good thing, but more importantly how firmly you can express it in front of others also matters a lot during a conflict. Some people have a calm and non-confrontational nature, making it challenging for them to express their opinions and thoughts firmly to others, While, some individuals place such importance on their needs that they hardly listen to other’s perspectives. Assertiveness can be further bifurcated into two types:

  • High Assertiveness: A person high on assertiveness places significant importance on their concerns and may disregard the concerns of others if his problems are not addressed in the first place. They consider what they believe as right and ask others to prevail on their demands, even if it means ignoring the addressing of pain areas of others.
  • Low Assertiveness: A person with low assertiveness may not be able to strongly assert their view to others, even if they appear to be valid. Such individuals are often quick to compromise, even if means a sacrifice and an unsatisfied outcome. As an example, Saying yes to something that you don’t completely agree with is a sign of low assertiveness.

It’s important to adapt your assertiveness level from situation to situation. Sometimes, being highly assertive can be necessary, while at other times, being less assertive can be a better approach.


The degree of Cooperativeness can be used to determine your empathy towards the Concern for Others, meaning how much you are willing to prioritize the needs and concerns of others above your own. Your cooperativeness level defines your willingness to consider and accommodate the perspectives, thoughts, and opinions of others during a conflict. Some people may easily cooperate with others after grasping their perspectives and are willing to work with them to resolve the problem. Whereas, other individuals, might not want to cooperate at all because they weigh their opinions and thoughts over others. Cooperativeness can also be classified into two types:

  • High Cooperativeness: Highly cooperative individuals are willing to cooperate with others to address their problem areas and concerns, even if it means sacrificing their desires or finding a compromise that benefits both parties. Often, such individuals have a calm disposition and are interested in handling conflicts in a mature and composed manner. A person having good team player skills and is willing to work with others to achieve a common goal is a good example of having high cooperativeness.
  • Low Cooperativeness: Low-cooperative individuals are usually unwilling to cooperate with others unless they have a personal motive involved. They lack interest in working with others to achieve a common goal, for them, their own goals take precedence. Such individuals are hard to please and at times it can be challenging to work with such people to achieve a common ground. Not willing to compromise on their needs and unwilling to listen to others’ views is a good example in this case.

I have covered Assertiveness and Cooperativeness in much depth in separate articles, please do check them out if you want to gain more insights on these two conflict resolution traits. In the Thomas Kilmann two-dimensional conflict resolution model, Thomas Kilmann used these traits to categorize human behavior into five conflict resolution styles: Competing, Collaborating, Avoiding, Accommodating, and Compromising. These styles represent different approaches to handling conflicts. Let’s discuss these in detail one by one:


Competing (High Assertiveness, Low Cooperativeness)

As the name suggests, people adopting the competing style are highly interested in having a competitive attitude with others during a conflict. They become so self-centered that they disregard the concerns of others for the sake of concern for themselves. They are usually unwilling to cooperate with others until their interests are at stake.

Such behavior is often seen in the arguments happening between mother-in-law and her daughters-in-law at home, where both are unwilling to cooperate as they prioritize their concerns over the concerns of the other. Resolving a conflict can indeed become quite challenging in such scenarios because neither party is willing to listen to the other, let alone cooperate. Quarrels between such individuals can quickly escalate and become quite serious.

Collaborating (High Assertiveness, High Cooperativeness)

Individuals adopting a collaborating style are high on both assertiveness and cooperativeness. They value the concerns of others as much as their concerns. Such individuals can firmly express their views and are willing to work with others to understand their concerns with the intent to resolve the conflict and alleviate the pain for others and themselves.  That’s indeed a wise approach to follow to peacefully resolve a conflict, In the example given previously, if both the mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law work together in synch, they can address their concerns by collaborating peacefully, leading to a more harmonious relationship.

It’s rare for both parties to collaborate while agreeing with each other views, It’s not necessary that what you expect from someone will always align with their willingness to do so. Conflict management often requires negotiations and compromise to reach a mutually acceptable solution.

Avoiding (Low Assertiveness, Low Cooperativeness)

Individuals having low assertiveness and low cooperativeness neither want to assert their views and opinions completely and firmly nor want to cooperate with others to resolve the conflict. They simply want to avoid conflicts and arguments so that it doesn’t escalate further. You would often hear them say that they are not interested in discussing anything further nor have any interest in negotiating to reach the common ground, they simply want to avoid the situation altogether and have no inclination to move the conversation forward.

I believe that adopting the avoiding style path can sometimes prove to be a good approach to calming down an escalated situation. When you know that having a conversation with the other person won’t lead to a resolution and may escalate things further, then avoiding having a further discussion is a better choice in such cases.

An important point to note here is that avoiding a conflict doesn’t necessarily resolve it; it might temporarily remove you from that situation, however, it can resurface in the future if the underlying root cause isn’t addressed. Sometimes, it’s better to address the conflict sooner rather than later to find a lasting solution.

Accommodating (Low Assertiveness, High Cooperativeness)

Individuals using this conflict style are willing to compromise on their desires and express agreement with the opinions and views of others to resolve the conflict. Their nature is that they find it difficult to firmly assert their feelings and are readily willing to compromise and accept other’s demands. Usually, they resolve matters by agreeing with the other’s opinion and not insisting strongly on their views.

It’s often relatively easy to get your point across to such people, and others can take full advantage of their generous behavior since they are readily willing to agree with others’ perspectives. Such individuals are kind-hearted, and that’s why they are readily in agreement in most situations, even if it doesn’t benefit them personally.

Whether adopting this conflict resolution style resolves a conflict or not can vary from situation to situation. Sometimes, you have to sacrifice your happiness for the sake of others, and perhaps that’s what this resolution style is all about. However, the question is how long this approach can be sustained.

Compromising (Moderately Assertive and Cooperative)

Having a compromising nature is what it takes to achieve synched harmony. Synced harmony involves firmly presenting your valid points and listening to the legitimate points of others. It’s about working together and being willing to cooperate with a mutual agreement on each other’s opinions, showing respect for each other’s thoughts, and being ready to compromise to find a middle ground.

While compromise may not always be the ideal solution in every conflict, when it comes to a matter involving family members or loved ones, it can often prove to be the best approach. Trying to please everyone or sacrificing your happiness every time may lead to disappointment in the long run. Therefore, finding a middle ground through a compromise is essential for maintaining a healthy and happy relationship.

Compromise is only effective when both parties are willing to compromise for each other. Otherwise, if only one of them keeps compromising while the other doesn’t, it may end up in a situation where only one continually makes sacrifices, and the other person takes all the efforts for granted. A healthy compromise requires a mutual effort, just like applause requires both hands to work together, similarly, harmonious conflict resolution takes effort from both sides to create harmony and peace as an outcome.

Thomas Kilmann Conflict Resolution Model Instrument


To Conclude, Thomas Kilmann conflict model perfectly explains conflict resolution styles in terms of assertiveness and cooperativeness. The use of these conflict resolution styles can vary depending on the situation, which we will delve into in more detail in upcoming articles in this blog.

Meanwhile, please let us know in the comment section which resolution style would you prefer for resolving domestic disputes peacefully. Also, feel free to provide more suggestions for improvements on how useful this article was which will greatly assist us in creating more better content.